Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Confronting the past"

I'm going to comment on this post:

In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination publicly repented of its roots in the defense of slavery. 

i) To begin with, there's a difference between condemning the past and "repenting" of the past. The notion that the living should repent for the actions of the dead is nonsense. Pious playacting. We can distance ourselves from the views and actions of our forebears. We can disassociate our views from their views. But vicarious repentance is meaningless and spiritually pretentious. 

ii) Although there's some value in making clear where the SBC currently stands on racial equality, this belated exercise easily becomes overwrought and self-important. Denouncing the morality of Antebellum slavery and Jim Crow is a dollar short and a day late. The timing is off. The time when that would have made a difference is past. That's a lost opportunity. 

There was a time when that would have been useful. But it's too late in the day for that to make a significant difference. Beyond a certain point it becomes a pointless exercise in moral grandstanding.

For instance, I can denounce the Fourth Crusade. But what difference does that make? It's too late to prevent the Fourth Crusade. It's too late to prosecute the assailants. 

We the living cannot repent on behalf of those who are dead, but we can repent for the legacy that we would otherwise perpetuate and extend by silence.

That sounds nice, but does it mean anything? If we're dealing with an ongoing policy, then we perpetuate it if we refuse to rescind the policy. But that terminated decades ago. I'm afraid Mohler is getting swept up in the momentum of his own rhetoric. 

So far as I can tell, no one ever confronted the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with the brutal reality of what they were doing, believing, and teaching in this regard. 

That's because they are all…dead. Short of holding a séance, it's hard to confront them. 

We cannot change the past, but we must learn from it. 

Which assumes the lesson hasn't been learned. Which casually defames the younger generation.

There is no way to confront the dead with their heresies, but there is no way to avoid the reckoning that we must make, and the repentance that must be our own.

What is there that we must personally repent of in this situation? Must I repent for the Fourth Crusade? 

But the ideology that was represented in Dylann Roof’s reported words as he killed and in the photographs and evidence found on his Internet postings is not limited to a small fringe.

i) If Mohler means historically, then it's true that racist ideology and theology wasn't confined to fringe groups. But if he means in modern-day evangelicalism or American society, then racist theology/ideology is confined to the lunatic fringe.

ii) At least the kind of theology/ideology that Mohler is referring to. In another sense, the "white privilege" meme that's so popular among today's power elite reflects a powerful racist ideology. A classic scapegoating ideology.  

iii) Because Mohler is so fixated on a now nonexistent past, he overlooks real problems. Take the unemployment rate amount Millennials (Roof's age bracket): 

When young people feel hopeless about the future, when they feel that they've been sidelined, that can make them recruits for scapegoating ideologies like kinism and neo-Nazism.  

The main “color line,” as Frederick Douglass called it in 1881, has always been black and white in America.

That's ironically ethnocentric. In fact, it's inadvertently racist. Even in the 19C, the color line included white/Chinese relations and white/Indian relations.

This obsession with the past marginalizes the voice of other ethnic groups. 

Boyce and Broadus were chaplains in the Confederate army.

Mohler fails to explain what's wrong with that. Yes, some prominent theologians like Boyce, Broadus, Dabney, and Girardeau were Confederate chaplains. What, exactly, is wrong with that?

You could say they were wrong to identify with the Confederal cause. But given the Civil War, was it wrong for them to serve as military chaplains? 

I imagine the Civil War basically emptied the Southern seminaries. Since these theologians had no students, it made sense for them to evangelize and disciple the troops. 

Knowing that you could be dead tomorrow makes the Gospel more urgent, more relevant. Moreover, the Confederate chaplains were assuming the same risks as the troops. I assume that garnered the respect of the troops. So there was a window of opportunity to evangelize the lost. 

Although the Confederate cause was morally compromised, that created a situation in which good could be done. Like Christian POWs who minister to other captives. Even though the situation is evil, you can bring good out of evil in that situation. For instance:

1 comment:

  1. So the founders of the SBC and the SBTS were sinners? That's hardly newsworthy.

    In reading through the article, and maybe reading too much between the lines, I got the distinct impression that its purpose was to act as a polemic / apologetic for justifying the continued use of names like "Boyce College", and other campus buildings that carry the namesakes of men whose views Mohler and Americans in general repudiate and deplore.

    Probably someone, or some group, has been agitating for the removal / disuse of the current nomenclature and because the Charleston shootings reinvigorated the push to remove the Confederate flag from the public sphere, the namesake issue has bubbled back to the surface at Southern.

    But where do we stop? The Confederate flag? Buildings named after dead men who served in the Confederacy and who publicly held and espoused racist views?

    Do we rename the states that seceded because of the painful memories? Do we pay reparations? Do we pursue the descendants of the Arabs, Africans, and Europeans who participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade?